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Re: East Coast Earthquake 8-23-2011 - comment and a bit of a Christchurch Telco report :)
From: Mark Foster <blakjak () blakjak net>
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2011 21:58:52 +1200 (NZST)

Radio - That was very interesting to observe. Clearly radio stations don't have disaster broadcast plans in place for content. When you're crying out for information about what's going on, the very last think you want to hear is an inappropriate advert break. The number of stations that kept broadcasting adverts for 'exciting things in Christchurch' was un-nerving. It's my view that media news desks also need to remember to listeners who are in the middle of the disaster area and are hanging on every word of their 'emergency radio'. To hear that my city is 'devastated by a MASSIVE earth quake and hundreds of people have been killed' every 10 minutes in the 'over hyped' news reader voice gets very alarming.

Commercial, nationwide-broadcast radio stations are not going to (by their very nature) broadcast disaster-information on a continuous basis as a significant proportion of their listener base may not be directly affected, and dont necessarily need the trauma. There's a psychological hit in this, and value in keeping up the norm as much as is reasonable.

On the other hand I expect that Radio New Zealand was one of the better transmitters involved, and to a lesser degree any radio station whos focus is talkback is going to be better value than someone who plays pop music.

It was interesting to observe later in the day the whole tone of broadcast changed. It seemed the media started to realise that this was in fact a very serious disaster and not just something they could/should beat up for ratings and ad revenues. Many stations are now all broadcast out of Auckland (over 1000km away and completely unaffected by the quake)

This is a cynical approach to what happened, in my (Auckland based) opinion. In the early stages information would've been relatively hard to come by, responders were very much in an all-hands-to-the-pump running-on-instinct phase and the scale of the incident means that regional and national emergency response needed to be spun up. As resources arrived from outside the immediately affected area, information began to be handled in a more structured fashion and the picture became clearer.

I watched the live coverage as much as I was able from the office when the quake struck, but the truth is that it was a few hours before solid data (that didnt mean repeating the same several datapoints) was forthcoming in any major volume.

We have had one new local radio station establish as a result of the quake. A group further down the country brought a caravan of equipment and set up a temporary transmitter in the most impacted part of the city. The result was so successful that the station has stayed on air.

This is a success story in my opinion; I imagine it'll have value during the recovery phase but I expect it'll remain relatively small, assuming theres any intention to continue with it long term. Local radio stations seem to be going the way of local-anything; being superceded by larger organisations that can benefit from scale. The ISP world is no different.

filtered. Clearly some very careful consideration was given in the TV broadcast space.

Emergency Services and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management have dedicated media liason for exactly this reason, and clued-up mainstream media are not stupid. Im more impressed that there wasn't more carnage published on Youtube, etc, from joe-insensitive-camcorder.

Impact on the media did become evident over the following two weeks. One broadcaster simply lost the plot at one point. It became evident that media presenters were becoming more effected by the disaster as time went on. I can understand this. Being told "Hey, stand there... because it will be a 'money shot'" takes some real guts when you consider that 'there' is in front of a building that could fall on you in the next aftershock.

The broadcasters are human. The Christchurch quake is the single biggest event of our generation (in NZ) and most of the broadcasters had never seen anything that big or signficant. The human cost hits home. Ithink it's cynical to think of 'money shot' type approaches... whilst every journo and cameraman wants good footage, you make them sound more callous than I expect they were.


Moving into an IPTV world is going to be very interesting in the disaster space in my view. We currently have FTA DVB-T & S and still have analogue transmission. So a 12volt inverter in your car and you can keep watching media. But what's going to happen in an IPTV world where most of the heavy data lifting is done via fibre?

I personally feel that low-complexity analogue systems work well as the lowest common denominator, and despite the fact i'm an IP engineer I harbour some concerns about the movement away from basic, tried-and-true technologies that involve substantially fewer OSI layers. However, TV in NZ will be pure digital in the next year or two and that's going to add an additional dependency for Television. Broadcast radio will be a ways behind I expect, as there isnt as much competition for the spectrum. Im certainly in no rush to see us move to Digital Broadcast Radio.

While I did loose text messaging, I never lost my telephone service or email connection. My phone service is on VoIP. I have a client on my mobile phone. So my service just transferred to my mobile even though my home lost power. When the mobile data 3G net failed, I then flicked to 2G GPRS data, then when that failed my power was back and we returned to the HFC cable.

This isnt necessarily a success story. All of the above has a heavy dependency on mains power. You're probably lucky that you retained sufficient battery endurance for the time you had no mains power. Yet another observation; the trend toward Smartphones is also a trend toward devices that you're lucky to get 2 days of standby on, in comparison to older, more basic handsets that might give you a week between charges.

Another risk.

I see VOIP as more risky than copper POTS due to the inability to rely on the service 'just working'. Where the exchange - a decent facility with significant investment in redundant power - can backfill power needs for an extended period back along the copper pair, this has got to be better than the average VOIP user who probably has no redundant power option at all. The corded-phone harvest would be no good for anyone who was fully on VOIP... even those end-nodes that have gel-cell batteries fitted for service during a power-failure would only be good for a few hours at best. How many residential properties have a Generator available?


One thing I will note is that once you're all 'IP', wireless technology becomes a much faster way of getting back on line. We had to relocate over 50,000 workers out of the CBD. Many businesses have commented that their only data choice was a point to point wireless solution. They were very surprised to discover how quickly those services could be commissioned and how much more performance they could get for the same money they'd been paying for fixed line service delivery.

Wireless, especially on unlicensed spectrum, has nowhere near the SLA that a typical fibre (or even copper business-grade) service can provide. You have a fight for spectrum, and latency/jitter figures that dont compare.

It has its place though and ive no doubt that folks will be more open to a service than can be uplifted and moved relatively easily, especially at the moment with many businesses operating in temporary premesis while their red-zone office spaces have their futures decided.

I would also not be surprised to see many of these folks tend back to fibre type services once theyre established in new permanent premesis.

One wireless last-mile provider I spoke to a few weeks ago was describing to me how one of their key transmission sites was the roof of a red-stickered building thats now marked for demolition. The very geography that works well for large, high powered transmission (ala TV) does not lend itself to shared-spectrum, nodal stuff such as wireless IP. You still need adequately connected locations that you can place RF kit on, with sufficiently-decent antennas to provide the right mix of directionality and coverage to ensure you can use and re-use your relatively limited spectrum to support the highest number of customers possible. Wireless is a mixed bag, but it is indeed better than nothing.


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